I'm rolling out the pastry for great grandpa's pie and thinking of the little time that is left and the choice between being late and finishing and she is curled on the stool next to me coloring at the wrapping for his present.
"I'm done mama," she chirps. "Is it beautiful?"
I pull from my reverie to see that the pencil scribbles I've been hearing were all over the cover of the book we are giving him, coloring in the white, covering the words, and my words come spilling out sharp and unkind.
"What are you doing coloring on a book? Don't you know not to color on a book. It is not beautiful. You've wrecked it."
She lays head down, hides it in her arms as I pound away at the dough, more easily molded than the little broken heart beside me. It is the Girl who first shows mercy, running over to erase the evidence as Little continues to weep quietly into her sleeve.
It is, I think, the first time I have ever spoken so harshly to her and the pain of it mixes with the weight of the rushing, and the feelings I am feeling about someone who isn't present, and the guilt of a hundred things left undone all crest at that moment and crush me.
But it is nothing compared to what 3 sentences have done to my 4 year old.
We will be late, I decide. We will not go, even though it's not often someone turns 85, if I can't sort this out first, with her, with me.
At least, that's what I wish I had done, stopped then, and reconciled. But I'm still trying to do it all and I continue pounding pastry with a perfunctory apology and a distraction and she stops crying and walks away.
The Girl comes in as I'm finishing, to ask again a question I already answered. But she doesn't like my answer.
"Why are you doing this?" I erupt. "Why are you doing this to yourself and me? Why are you making yourself miserable again and revisiting all the tears of an hour ago and making me listen to it? I already said no. I'm not going to say yes. Why now? Can't you see how busy I am getting this all done?"
It's her turn to cry on the stool and mine to swallow down aggravation and the bitter tone to my words. I put the pie in the oven pick up the baby who is desperate for me; the Boy has been doing his best to to help him while I'm busy. I set the Girl to making sandwiches while I change diapers and nurse him to sleep and his smile and hand brushing my face softens the hardness that has been pressing and the ball that clenches tight. I catch Little, running through the bedroom as I'm finishing with diapers, hold her close and whisper, "I was wrong to talk to you that way. I'm so sorry. My heart hurts that my words hurt you. Please forgive me."
She looks down, avoids my eyes, staring at her toe as it works a hole through the hardwood and then brightens, "I forgive you mama."
She says it like it's the password to her release and I hug her tighter for a second and whisper thank-you before letting go and watching her run off to play. She will probably remember this, and whenever she searches the annals of her childhood to justify her teenaged insistence that hers is an unhappy life, this day will be rehearsed. It will serve me right for all the times I did the same.
It's only after the baby is asleep, and the lunch eaten, the Girl made me a sandwich too, that I recover some sort of sanity. I call the person I'm feeling feelings about and say them out loud, which almost immediately disperses their bitterness. I make another call to let those waiting know to go on ahead of us. We'll be there when we can. I will not do it all today.
Then I frost the cake and call Aaron to apologize for the state I will be leaving the kitchen in. He makes me laugh by pretending to care.
We leave, a full hour behind schedule, and I once again ask forgiveness in the car for my words and actions, a path of repentance that is worn, maybe wearing thin, and I console myself with the thought that it's more useful to children to see how their parents handle it when they inevitably fail than to never see them fail at all. I'm good at failing it seems. I have a lot of practice.
So please don't ask me how I do it all. You really don't want to know. It's far from pretty and I often fail. I'm learning as I go. Just like you.